Child unemployed as “lifestyle choice” fails to show being disinherited was unreasonable: Ames v Jones 2016
A daughter’s claim for financial provision from her late father’s estate was rejected on the grounds that her unemployment was a “lifestyle choice”.
The deceased left his estate (Approximately £1 million) to his wife of thirty years. The deceased’s only child, Miss Ames (41), an unemployed mother of two, lodged a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 (the “1975 Act”), claiming that his Will failed to make reasonable financial provision for her given her financial circumstances.
Under the 1975 Act, an adult child does not have an automatic right to inherit their parent’s estate: this can only be granted where court considers unreasonable provision in the circumstances has been made. The claimant must show that the estate does not make reasonable financial provision for their maintenance. This is a very context-specific rubric.
In Miss Ames’ case, the court considered all aspects of the 1975 Act including the financial needs and resources of the claimant. The court found that, though Miss Ames alleged to be in a poor financial position, she failed to provide good evidence that she was unable to earn her own income to meet her needs. In comparison, her stepmother was a pensioner and submitted evidence that she had little disposable income.
Most notably the Judge decided that Miss Ames’ lack of employment was a “lifestyle choice”, and that this entirely undermined her claim.
The Judge concluded that the mere fact an adult applicant is a child of the deceased is unlikely to be decisive. These claimants are unlikely to succeed unless it can be demonstrated that the balance comes down in their favour when considering all the factors under the 1975 Act.
Miss Ames therefore had to pay her own costs of £47,000, and those of her stepmother’s at around £85,000.
This is just one example of the current 1975 Act caselaw. It is however a clear example of how these cases depend on evidence that is only properly tested by the court on the day of trial. Given the complexities, vagaries and context-specific factors, this case is a reminder of how the legislation and caselaw can only go so far in providing accuracy and confidence in how individual claims might resolve.